- New research adds to the body of evidence showing that the quality of relationships can affect health.
- The study found that couples who have negative communication styles experience slower healing.
- Chronic negative communication patterns were also associated with greater inflammation.
- Experts suggest that it’s best to discuss your differences in a positive, non-confrontational way.
- Being aware of the impact of non-verbal communication also helps.
A new study published this month in the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology reports that the ways couples communicate with each other — for example, whether marital partners tend to give each other the cold shoulder or avoid talking about their problems — can lead to negative emotions and stressful feelings that then impact on the functioning of the immune system.
According to the authors, dysfunctional communication patterns also foster lingering bad feelings about the relationship itself and create chronic inflammation. In fact, study participants presented to the lab with elevated markers of inflammation already in their blood.
The analysis takes a fresh look at data from a
The authors note that marriage is known to have protective effects on health, with married couples having lower rates of death and disease. However, this study demonstrates that this is not automatically the case.
A stressful marriage can also have negative health effects.
The original research, co-authored by Jan Kiecolt-Glaser, PhD, the lead author of the current study, included 42 married heterosexual couples who had been married for an average of 12 years.
Their blood was tested at the start of the study for the presence of inflammatory markers, and the researchers used a device to create a small blister on each person’s forearm. Ampulla healing was used throughout the study to monitor immune system function.
Participants were asked to complete a questionnaire assessing their typical communication patterns.
The couples were then asked to have two separate discussions on film: one regarding social support and the other being an attempt to resolve a known issue within the marriage.
The researchers coded any negative or positive behavior during these discussions. Couples were also asked to rate the conversations themselves.
According to Matthew D. Johnson, PhD, director of clinical training and professor of psychology at Binghamton University, who was not involved in either study, the goal of the new study was to examine the level of ” request/withdrawal of the communication models” of the couples. ”
“Typically, this is a pattern in which one partner wants to discuss an issue or event in the marriage, and the other partner backs out of the discussion (e.g., by signaling disinterest, exasperation or physically leaving the space),” Johnson said. . “The withdrawal of a partner may then cause the ‘demanding’ partner to intensify their efforts to discuss the issue by becoming increasingly upset or pushy.”
According to Johnson, couples who had either of these two modes of communication experienced greater inflammation, slower healing, higher negative emotion, lower positive emotion, and lower talk ratings. at the start of the study.
“More interestingly,” he remarked, “negative communication patterns predictedslower healing, lower positive emotions, and more negative discussion ratings.
According to Johnson, this has “important implications for the direction of causality.”
In other words, it may show that marital communication patterns lead to health problems.
Johnson further noted that this study contributes to a growing body of work, including his own, showing the association between relationship quality and health.
“Communication is the key to success,” said Hannah M. Garza, PhD, clinical director of TCHATT at Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center El Paso. “Married couples who communicate openly and have the ability to discuss their differences in a positive, non-confrontational way tend to have better long-lasting relationships than those who argue and argue regularly.”
Garza added that communication isn’t just about words either. This can include things like making coffee for your partner, helping with household chores, and grocery shopping together. Even little things like texting your husband or wife during the day that you’re thinking of them “go a long way,” according to Garza.
“By helping, you let your loved one know that you care and are there to pick up the pieces when it needs to be done, or just be proud of them when they achieve something big in life” , she explained.
“Take that extra step for your spouse to make them feel special, in fact when you see that smile on their face it will make a difference in your emotional state and that of your spouse,” she said. added.